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Last night, I celebrated International Women’s Day with Holly, Pilar, Maura and Melinda at Drink.  This is not a day generally acknowledged here in the US, but in Europe it’s a big deal—it’s a time to get together with your closest gal pals and be merry.  And merry we were.

I told bartender Joe Staropoli that I wanted to celebrate the day with cocktails named after women.  The first drink he made for me was the Mamie Taylor.  Following the criteria for a highball—a spirit with a sparkling mixer served in a tall glass with ice—the Mamie Taylor is a yum combination of blended scotch, lime juice, and ginger beer (home-made, of course).  I loved the wonderful spiciness of the ginger in this drink.  It was warm, refreshing and bright.

Image of Mamie Taylor from broadside, c. 1900

So, who was Mamie Taylor and how did she get a drink named after her?  She was popular opera singer and actress in the late 19th-early 20th centuries. One story says that a bartender in Rochester, New York created the drink for Mamie when she requested a refreshing drink on a hot day.  Whatever the exact origin of its creation, Mamie’s namesake cocktail quickly became the “it” drink after its debut in 1899.  “The latest bit on these hot days is a nice cool Mamie Taylor.” (Daily News, 1900)  Its popularity, however, waned just as fast; within a few years, no one was ordering a Mamie Taylor.  Luckily for us, the recipe was noted in Jack Townsend’s 1952 The Bartender’s Book, and Ted Haigh keeps it alive in Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails.

For my second drink, I had a Barbara West.  Unlike my first drink, the origin of this cocktail’s name and whether or not its linked to an actual woman named Barbara West is unclear.  After the first sip, I was intrigued.  I liked it a lot, but I couldn’t instantly identify the spirit.  Instead of telling me, Joe gave us a clue, “Think of a Stevie Wonder song. And the main ingredient sounds like that.”  We all began humming and singing different songs (we discovered that I easily confuse Stevie Wonder and Lionel Richie– “Hello. Is it me you’re looking for?”).  As Pilar began “My cheri amour, lovely as a summer’s day…” a smile came across Joe’s face—sherry!

The Barbara West is made with sherry, gin, lemon juice, and orange bitters.  I was surprised by how much I liked it, since I am still acquiring my taste for sherry.  But this drink is dry and crispy and really wonderful.  Whoever you are Barbara West, your cocktail is pretty great!

So, while International Women’s Day is a good day to celebrate with the wonderful women in your life, don’t wait until next March 8.  Any day is a good time—and Mamie Taylor and Barbara West make fine company for such an occasion.  Cheers!

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